Mapping Watersheds - where does the water go (in what direction and how does it move)?

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to determine what factors impact the geographic spatial extent of a watershed.

Standards Addressed

PA Science Standards:

3.3.6.A1. Recognize and interpret various mapping representations of Earth’s common features.
3.3.6.A4. Describe how water on earth cycles in different forms and in different locations, including underground and in the atmosphere.
3.3.7.A6. MODELS/SCALES- Locate significant geological structures using various mapping representations.
4.2.6.A – Identify the five major watersheds of Pennsylvania.
4.2.7.A – Explain how water enters, moves through and leaves a watershed.

  • Explain the concept of stream order.
  • Describe factors that affect the flow and quality within a watershed

4.2.10 – Examine the interactions between abiotic and biotic factors with in a watershed

  • Describe how topography influences the flow of water in a watershed.

NGSS Standards: 

MS-ESS2-4: Global movements of water and its changes in form are propelled by sunlight and gravity.
MS-ESS2.C: Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land.

Supplies/Materials/Articles Needed

Computer & internet access for student/pairs of students

ArcGIS “A River Runs Through It” website:

Reflection Questions in hand out

Preparation Time Needed

Varying based on desire to modify activity to fit needs of students.  Activity can be modified to fit the needs of the classroom.  Teachers should always try activities before administering to students

Class Time Required

1-2 (45 minute) class periods, depending on computer skills of students and freedom given to students to explore the program

Activity Description

In this activity students will explore watersheds in their local area, as well as those pertinent to discussion of the human impact on the watersheds in their own area and globally in areas with water problems. This activity will use the ArcGIS activity “A River Runs Through It” to trace areas that feed into rivers, and examine the physical geology of the area that contribute to this watershed morphology.  Though any watershed can be used, the examples in this activity focus on the watersheds involving the Delaware, Susquehanna, Colorado and Mississippi Rivers in the United States and the city of Toowoomba in Australia’s Queensland Providence in support of the book, “The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water” by Charles Fishman. This activity can also be completed with students that have not read “The Big Thirst.”